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Giuliani is ordered to pay $148 million to Georgia election workers he defamed

Rudy Giuliani arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a trial to determine how much he will have to pay two 2020 Georgia election workers who he falsely accused of fraud.
Jose Luis Magana
/
AP
Rudy Giuliani arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a trial to determine how much he will have to pay two 2020 Georgia election workers who he falsely accused of fraud.

Updated December 15, 2023 at 5:43 PM ET

Former Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani has been ordered to pay a staggering $148 million to two former Georgia election workers he spread lies about following the 2020 election.

The decision on Friday comes at the end of a week-long federal civil trial in Washington, D.C., where an eight-person jury heard from the workers — Wandrea "Shaye" Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman — about how 2020 election conspiracies spread by Giuliani and former President Donald Trump turned their lives upside down.

"I was afraid for my life," Moss said during her testimony on Tuesday. "I literally felt that someone would attempt to hang me and there was nothing anyone could do about it."

Jurors heard numerous violent and racist voicemails the women received, after Giuliani used his massive platform as a campaign attorney for Trump to spread lies about their actions as election workers in Georgia.

In the time after voting ended in 2020, Giuliani shared video from an absentee ballot counting facility in Fulton County, which he falsely claimed showed the two women cheating and scanning ballots multiple times to benefit Joe Biden.

A hand-count audit in Georgia found votes to have been tallied correctly in the 2020 election, and a years-long investigation by the Georgia secretary of state's office found the accusations against Moss and Freeman to be "false and unsubstantiated."

"There was no evidence that suggested they did anything wrong, except show up for work and work hard," testified Frank Braun, who oversaw the investigation for the secretary of state's office.

In August, district Judge Beryl Howell found Giuliani liable for defamation, due to his lack of cooperation in the case, and Giuliani concededas part of the proceedings that his statements about Moss and Freeman were false.

So the trial this week was only held to determine the damages Moss and Freeman were owed.

Speaking outside the court Friday after the verdict, Freeman said that money won't bring back her past life or her name. Moss said, "[O]ur greatest wish is that no one, no election worker or voter or school board member or anyone else ever experiences anything like what we went through."

Giuliani, meanwhile, called the jury's award "absurd" and indicated he thought it would be overturned on appeal.

It's not the only legal trouble for Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and two-term New York City mayor, related to his efforts to subvert Georgia's 2020 election. He faces more than a dozen charges in the racketeering investigation brought by the Fulton County district attorney.

Throughout the week-long civil trial, attorneys for Moss and Freeman enumerated the wide reach of election lies and the many ways those lies ruined the lives of the two women. An expert witness specializing in marketing and social media estimated that the relevant falsehoods reached tens of millions of people, and that a strategic communications campaign to repair the women's reputations could cost as much as $47.4 million.

Freeman broke down crying Wednesday as she described leaving her home after receiving a warning from the FBI that her life could be at risk.

"Ruby Freeman. I hope the federal government hangs you and your daughter from the Capitol dome," said one message Freeman received at the time. "I pray that I will be sitting close enough to hear your necks snap!"

Freeman said she no longer feels comfortable introducing herself to anyone.

"The only thing you have in life is your name," Freeman said. "My life is messed up, all because of someone putting my name out there."

Giuliani's defense attorney, Joseph Sibley, argued throughout the week that while the former mayor did spread falsehoods about Moss and Freeman, many other outlets and people did too, so Giuliani shouldn't bear the entire brunt of how those lies manifested.

"Mr. Sibley has a hard job," said Judge Howell at one point, after it came out that Giuliani had continuedto lie about the women while talking to reporters on the courthouse steps earlier in the week. Giuliani declined to testify as part of the trial, however.

Tammy Patrick, an election expert and former Arizona election official, said she has been heartened that those involved in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election have begun to face consequences. With the 2024 election fast approaching, she said she's optimistic candidates will think twice next year about lying about elections and the people who administer them.

"We need to hold people accountable and we need to remove the incentives," Patrick said. "We need to embrace the truth in this country."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.

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